Suddenly Charged with Caring for Parents in an Accident who Probably Are Driving Me Insane.
June 7, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm suddenly caregiver for my mid-70's parents after a serious car accident, and I'm completely lost, and while I'm sympathetic, I want them the heck out of my house as soon as possible.

My mom and her husband had flown in for my daughter's graduation weekend and as they were driving in my sister's car to meet me at a concert, my mom went through a stop sign and they were hit by a minivan...both were taken to the hospital.

My step-dad has a broken scapula and broken ribs, my mom (who was driving) has a concussion and some bruises. They were released after 2 days in the hospital and came home with me (I have 3 kids at home). Docs now saying at best guess, they can fly home in 2 to 3 WEEKS.

My question: what's the best way to take care of them without going completely insane and saving my kids' sanity?

Even under typical circumstances, my mother is difficult...a hypochondriac, very critical of me and my kids, very anxious, with imaginary dietary needs and imaginary aches and pains. Stepdad is the same...also pretty much always in a state of self-proclaimed agony.

So now they're both staying at my house (my sister and her boyfriend just moved in together and he doesn't want them there) and they are not being easy. Soup is too hot, too cold, bed is too hard, too soft, Schweppes Ginger Ale, not Stop and Shop, PT woman was an idiot, etc.

I've set up my bedroom for them, arranged daily visiting nurse and PT visits, and my sister will try to stop by when she can. My older kids have jobs and will be around for coverage when possible. But there will be times when there's no coverage. YANMD but is that okay? Can I just get out sometimes before I lose my shit completely?

How do I help them get better quickly, get them out of my house, and not lose my mind?

I may be forgetting important things...right now I'm very stressed out and probably not thinking clearly so if I need to answer questions, let me know.
posted by kinetic to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
But there will be times when there's no coverage. YANMD but is that okay? Can I just get out sometimes before I lose my shit completely?

Of course you can. They are both mobile, yes? Neither has an injury that renders them bedridden? They have nursing care?

You are not taking 3 weeks off work to deal with their recovery, are you? I'm sure that MeFi can regale you with many tales of people who were able to look after themselves a few days after accidents, surgery, childbirth, whatever. I realise older people are more precarious but unless this narrative is missing a piece, I cannot see why you need to be there full time.

Talk to the PT but I imagine it would benefit them to get up and look after themselves ASAP.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:09 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Second, recognize that right now, they legitimately have a great deal of discomfort, and that most people are crankier than usual when they are unwell.

Third, ask the daily visiting nurse about whether they need round-the-clock care, i.e. how long is it ok for them to be completely on their own? It sounds like they should be able to get around to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., but those would be big considerations. (On preview, my feeling is pretty much the same as DarlingBri's)

Fourth, your sister needs to do more than "try to stop by when she can." Set up a schedule with her. Not that you can force her if she is simply unwilling to step up, but you should be able to ask her to take responsibility.

Fifth, I don't know that any of us can tell you how to help them get better more quickly. This is something to discuss with the PT. Obviously, things like good nutrition, getting exercise, adequate rest, etc., are important.

Most importantly (after BREATHE), make sure you get some time to yourself, even if it is just fifteen quiet minutes every day.

You'll get through this. Hang in there.
posted by bardophile at 7:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

You may also have some of your own processing to do about this - it's natural to have all sorts of grief/guilt/fear/anxiety in the aftermath of a trauma like this. You definitely need time alone out of the house. They will be fine if you leave them for a half hour and take a walk around the block. This is one of those "put your own oxygen mask on first" moments where you need to take care of yourself in order to better care for your parents and your children during a difficult few weeks. It might also be helpful for all of you to take some time each day to appreciate that it was not much worse - while gratitude practice can seem hokey, it can also lighten the mood from a general state of complaint and dissatisfaction to a more peaceful acceptance of a difficult situation.
posted by judith at 7:29 AM on June 7, 2012

I think that the advice from DarlingBri and bardophile is sound.

Another option if time goes by and you are absolutely going to lose it: Many assisted living facilities have short-term respite care facilities, but of course they are pricey. Of course, your parents will have to consent to this assuming they can afford it.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:31 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can leave your parents to their devices. They are not bedridden to the point of being immobile.

They will kvetch. It's normal. I feel for my sister who lives a mile from my parents, who are also in their 70's. I don't have the patience.

In the grand scheme of things, your parents's injuries are minimal, although I'm sure that they're feeling everything at the most intense level EVER!

Now is the time to treat yourself. Don't cook if you can bring home take out. Get out and do what you would normally do, but don't go overboard.

You've made them as comfortable as possible. You don't have to hover.

Yes, they'll make you crazy with their special requests, so you get a different brand of soda while they're "visiting". It's not the end of the world.

Cranky is okay, but being mean or nasty is not. When mom is pushing your buttons (and my Mom can breathe funny and push mine) just say, "Look, this is a trying time for all of us, but I can't let you speak to me (or the kids, or the husband, or the cat) that way." Try to take the high road.

Also, expect no gratitude. Somehow, this is your fault.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:44 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

[Comment removed - try again without the name calling. Email us if you have questions.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:45 AM on June 7, 2012

Your mother had a concussion and bruises. That's all right, no broken bones? She can do quite a bit to take care of herself and her husband so you aren't left with the burden.

Soup too cold? "OK mom, you know how to use a microwave."

Not happy with what I buy? "OK mom, I'll drive you to the grocery store twice a week so make sure you have a list ready for all the things YOU will need to make some of our meals."

PT is an idiot? "OK mom, you can find a new one if you'd like. Here is a phonebook."

Alternatively, or in addition to the above tactic, hire a care giver. Expensive, yes, but totally worth your sanity.

Also...leave the house. It is ok to leave them by themselves.
posted by teamnap at 7:53 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

So Mom screwed up and wrecked your sister's car. Hmm, sounds like that'll be leverage to lord over her for QUITE a while.

They handled raising you for decades so 3 weeks of your life isn't really isn't much in comparison.

But Ruthless Bunny makes the point; take the high road. Make it clear that you will not tolerate being ill-treated in your own home, regardless of their condition. Just resist the (considerable) temptation to sink to any level of nastiness about it. They're hurt and need help, but that doesn't give them the right to be abusive (not that they have the right any other time either).

As for sister and boyfriend, here's an idea, tell her she needs to fly back home with them to help them during the trip. Split the ticket if necessary. Don't just let her duck out of responsibility entirely just because her boyfriend doesn't like it.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:57 AM on June 7, 2012

Keep in mind that even a minor car wreck really messes with your head. I was in a more minor crash than your parents about a week ago. The first four days were a blur -- my emotions were all over the map, I had panic attacks, flashbacks, pain, insomnia. I was a mess. It was a week before I finally started to fell halfway human again and sleep through the night...

So give them as much space as you can for your sake and theirs. :-) They are grumpy and in pain. You are tired and stressed from having your space invaded. Periodically check in with them, but find reasons to be out of the house as much as you can justify. The 3 weeks will go much more quickly and smoothly that way.

Or see if they would be more comfortable in a hotel room like a Residence Inn... perhaps the noise of a household with kids is hard on their jangled nerves and they would prefer to be somewhere quieter?
posted by LittleMy at 8:54 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing you need to push your sister to step up - at the very least scheduled for 2 hrs a day or so.

Yes, you can step out and leave them alone for a couple of hours. "Kids and I are going out. we'll be back at x time. Get some sleep while we're gone."

Is there anyone else in your town that they know, who can come over and entertain them for an hour? Distraction is good. If not that, are they religious? You can reach out to a local minister who I'm sure would come over to talk with them awhile... maybe even some other church members would volunteer to drop by. This would be easier if you belong to a local church, but possible even if you don't.
posted by evilmomlady at 9:00 AM on June 7, 2012

Yes you can leave them alone for a bit, they are not incapacitated and they manage by themselves normally so I can't see why they can't now. I really like teamnap's suggestions on how to handle the complaints.

Remember in your mid 70's bodies take longer to heal and you don't bounce back from things anywhere near as fast physically as you used to. If they are anything like my mother a lot of their bitching will be because they still think they should be better now and when they haven't they panic and think it's more serious than it is.

Yes they are driving you crazy and you have every right to be driven crazy by their behaviour, just remember they, and you, were super lucky and the crash could have been a lot worse, and count your blessings that they are here to bitch and moan at you for the next 3 weeks. Then maybe it won't seem so bad.
posted by wwax at 9:20 AM on June 7, 2012

Uh, this might seem trivial or obvious, but can you get the docs to help by prescribing Ativan or something similiar? I mean for them AND/OR you. It's not going to hurt you in the short-term, and really does kind of blunt the edges, speaking from experience.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:22 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't understand why these injuries prevent them from flying.

Are you sure about this detail??

(apologies if I am outta line, but I don't see how a concussion or a broken bone precludes flying. IMNAD, obvs.)
posted by jbenben at 9:44 AM on June 7, 2012

Echoing the fact that this is a pretty traumatic time for everyone, so do schedule some alone time. Also while they might not be able to fly for 2-3 weeks, (this is pretty common safety advice with these kinds of injuries) they can certainly go by train a bit sooner, or be driven, depending on how far away they live. Especially of they had someone to accompany them.

However, step-dad's injuries can be complicated depending on how healthy he was to start with and it's not unheard of to get a respiratory infection after ribs breaking in someone of his age, so ask PT about what to watch out for to help ensure he heals as well as he can.

It's all about planning & scheduling others to help, they definitely can be left alone for a few hours at a time.
posted by Wilder at 9:47 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

thinkpiece, yes, I got my mom Ativan yesterday and it seemed to help a teeny bit.
posted by kinetic at 10:05 AM on June 7, 2012

A slightly crazy thing I sometimes do when I know that my buttons are going to get pushed:

Invent a character, a character who isn't sensitive to criticism, who's always even-tempered and happy, who takes the easy way out of any challenge. This character doesn't fight, doesn't need to stand her ground, doesn't do stuff like cook when she could order a pizza, never feels guilt or resentment. Just does whatever needs doing (but not more!) and doesn't worry about it. Like a kindly village idiot sort of thing. Someone criticizes? That would bother the real you, but you're not you, you're this character who doesn't have a criticism-receptor.

Pretend to be this person til they leave.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:19 AM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

If your sister is unable or unwilling to help with your parents, can she take care of some of your other stressors or chores?

Could she do your shopping? Childcare? Laundry? Ferrying kids around?

If she can't be available as a caretaker, she might be able or willing to take the load off you in other ways.
posted by endless_forms at 10:29 AM on June 7, 2012

Bone breaks at age 75 are a more serious and slower to heal than bone breaks at 55 or 35, so I understand why the doctors want your parents in someone's care.

In my opinion, sister's boyfriend needs to drink a big mug of STFU. With relationships come responsibilities, and this is one of them. Your sister has to step up and help out, if not by taking the parents into your home, then:

– making / buying and delivering meals
– making in-home visits regularly
– shuttling parents to appointments / physical therapy / etc.

Put more kindly, you need to spread the load around so you have enough time for your kids, yourself, and your sanity.

If sis can't step up, tap all your friends for meals and parent-sitting a night or two a week so you can breathe.
posted by zippy at 10:59 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

You mention your mom and stepdad's "imaginary dietary needs and imaginary aches and pains." I think things will be easier for you if, at least for these few weeks, you give them the benefit of the doubt and pretend that their imaginary complaints are real. In their world, they ARE real, and that's all that matters from their perspective. I guarantee you, when you're in your 70s, you are going to have some aches and pains, and some dietary needs, that would surprise you if you knew about them now. Your young self cannot imagine what it feels like to live in a body that's 70 years old, especially one that has just been tossed around in a car accident. They probably both feel like crap, and they'd much rather be in their own home with all their familiar comforts at hand. They have good reason to be cranky. Humor them.

After you get as much help as you can from your sister and others, and take some time to take care of yourself, treat these battered folks with as much compassion and respect as you can muster. This will reduce the level of hostility and craziness, and, as a bonus, will also help them heal faster.
posted by Corvid at 1:18 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to all the good advice above, it might be helpful to you to mentally divide the time in thirds: a period of initial discomfort, a period of increasing strength and self-sufficiency which you support by giving them increasingly less assistance, and a final period of a few days where they are not only self-sufficient but can demonstrate their readiness for the tasks required for traveling. Talk about their progress. Talk about their hurting less than they did at first and how that takes a few days to start and they are already feeling better. If they criticize, say, "See, I told you you are getting better, you'll be at home and finally able to be comfortable in no time!"

Make sure they have their prune juice or bran flakes or whatever and leave them be. Expect improvement and get out and take care of yourself.
posted by Anitanola at 5:02 PM on June 7, 2012

I think it is fair to have a "Come to Jesus" talk with them about the philosophy of restorative care. You are not there to wait on them. You (and the nurses and PT) are there to help them regain their prior functions. It might take them longer to do normal tasks but that's okay. For example, your dad might take 10 minutes to bend over and put on socks. That's okay. PT should be able to help with planning. What are they able to do now? What goals are they working towards? The goals should be things that are able to accomplished in the next several days. Like, right now the patient can walk 100 ft. The next goal is 250 ft.

In terms of pain control I assume they have scheduled pain medications? Keep ice and a heating pad handy and offer them for whining in between medication times. Also offer to walk with them. Moving helps stiff and sore bodies. If they don't want heat or ice or a walk feel free to tune out the whining. Simply murmur uhuh and keep going.

You don't say if they had any prior medical issues. That might complicate things but I don't see why they couldn't be left alone. They are adults. Leave them your cellphone so they can call for help.

Is there any possibility you could fly home with them and set things up there? Seems like it might be better for everyone if they went home and had visiting nurses and PT come work with them in their own environment. And they'd probably benefit from the care of their primary doctors.
posted by MadMadam at 8:14 PM on June 7, 2012

with imaginary dietary needs and imaginary aches and pains. Stepdad is the same...also pretty much always in a state of self-proclaimed agony.

I totally feel your pain, though without the added stress of them being under my roof. Do they ramp each other up, too? My parents get themselves into an escalating ladder of freak-out where the other person's alarm validates their anxieties and so on and so on and so on. I usually find an excuse to get them separated, gently question the root anxiety as best as I can see it, and cajole them into being more self-assured. When pushed too far, I have flat-out rebutted irrational and really manipulative statements, but arguing like this is the nuclear option, and it leaves a lot of scorched earth.

I don't know if my experience is close enough to apply to your mom and stepdad, but I feel like a lot of this sort of behavior is fear being expressed as need to control the situation. Sometimes some literal-minded reacting can be effective. Think behavior modification. For example:

Parent: Ohhhh, agony agony"
You: [going wide-eyed] Do you need to go to the emergency room?!
Parent: Noooooo, but agony agony.
You: [dead fucking serious face] No, this is very serious. You were okay a couple of hours ago, and now...(list their complaints in as clinical language as you can muster on the spot.) I need to take you to the ER right away, I'm not a doctor, they can assess this serious change in your condition.

Goal: Parent gets to solve the problem and/or be the one to reassure you.

Solution: Maybe they agree to wait 20 minutes and if they're still in pain, you're taking them to the ER immediately. And maybe they decide after 20 minutes that it was just gas or a muscle cramp or a side effect from the medication (picked from list of common non-urgent side effects.) Maybe with a little bit of prompting.
posted by desuetude at 11:46 PM on June 7, 2012

« Older I want to get both of them in there   |   Books with characters who know they're characters? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.